Share this story

The Vespers of Our Lady of Guadalupe — Forty Years Later

It is late 1992 and I am a seminarian assigned to Sacred Heart San José. Fr Mateo Sheedy tells me that he and some parishioners are planning on walking across town to Guadalupe parish for a special celebration and Would I like to go? I say, “Yes, of course,” while thinking, that’s at least four miles! Wouldn’t it be easier to drive?

And on a cold late afternoon, the first Friday of Advent, a hundred or so of us began to make our way along Keyes and then Story Road to East San Jose, all the while singing and praying the Rosary. I was impressed by the number of families that participated. And the excitement! There were senior citizens, several moms with baby strollers, and all ages in between.

A couple of hours later we were welcomed into the warm, rose-drenched sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in a flourish of song and applause. After each of the participating parishes had been recognized, Bishop Pierre Dumaine presided over a simple, beautiful liturgy of Evening Prayer.

That was my initiation into what was called the annual Diocesan Vespers of Our Lady of Guadalupe, instituted by Bishop Dumaine when the Diocese of San José was born in 1981. It was to be for him an opportunity, on the first Friday of Advent each year, to affirm the Hispanics in their devotion to the dark-skinned woman who appeared to Juan Diego in December 1531 on a hill called Tepeyac and left her image on his tilma.

That night I learned something of the depth of faith that Hispanics express in their love for Our Lady of Guadalupe. They radiated solidarity and joy. It seemed to me that they were walking and praying with loved ones unseen, as if they were transported in time and place to their hometowns, reliving the Guadalupe celebrations of their youth.

That procession to OLG parish was for them a profession of faith in the story of how the Mother of Jesus assured suffering people that she was there for them. It was for me a lesson in the difference between a walk and a pilgrimage, and an invaluable experience of bonding with the people I would eventually serve as an ordained minister.

The contributions of Hispanic Catholics in San Jose have been enormous over these past 40 years and before. The majority are first- or second-generation immigrants. They, or their parents and grandparents, have made tremendous sacrifices to get here and survive here. Their faith has been tempered with the courage, strength, and joy distilled from those challenges.

Their commitment to the local church and wider community has borne fruit in Cursillos, the permanent Diaconate, People Acting in Community Together (PACT), San Vicente de Paul, the Center for Employment Training (CET), Sacred Heart Community Services, the Biblioteca Latinoamericana, and the Gardner Clinic, to name but a few ministries and services that have blossomed in our South and East-side parishes.

Bishop Patrick McGrath was consecrated in November 1999. He continued the annual tradition of gathering the faithful of San Jose to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, now with the celebration of Mass instead of Evening Prayer.

It is late 2016 and I am pastor of Saint Mary Gilroy. Associate Pastor Fr Jose Antonio Rubio tells me he and some parishioners are planning on walking to Our Lady of Guadalupe parish and would I like to go? I say, “of course not, that’s at least 30 miles!”

And to the amazement and admiration of many, on the first Friday of Advent, Fr Jose and two dozen or so faithful started up Monterey Highway to walk, sing and pray all the way (or at least attempt) to OLG.

This year’s celebration is particularly important. COVID-19 has sickened and killed many, and caused untold emotional and economic pain. It has disrupted the worship routine of everyone. The question of God’s presence during this difficult time has been on the minds of many.

OLG will close the 40th Anniversary Year with the celebration of the Diocesan Mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the first Friday of Advent, December 3rd. Some will walk, others will drive. In either case, it will be a pilgrimage of loving solidarity with the Virgin of Guadalupe.

It will be a dynamic prayer of pastors, priests, and faithful, gathered with our Bishop Oscar Cantu, that the Diocese of San José be re-energized in the Holy Spirit! We will affirm the real presence of Christ among us by being present to each other. It will be a source of grace to commit to the work of reconnecting with those who have drifted from our parishes during the pandemic.

Together, pilgrims all, we will sing our faith that God is still here! The God who is present in the love of Mary Our Lady of Guadalupe, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth and mother of us all.